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Making safe churches

Making safe churches

Garth Blake SC

22 May 2018 9:21AM

The chair of the Anglican Communion’s Safe Church Commission, Australian barrister and Senior Counsel Garth Blake, reflects on its latest meeting.

The second face to face meeting of the Anglican Communion Safe Church Commission has taken place in the South African city of George. The meeting took place against the background of the recent public disclosure of complaints of sexual abuse against clergy in provinces (Southern Africa, Nigeria and Hong Kong) and government inquiries in Australia and England revealing inadequate responses to victims of child sexual abuse by Anglican churches.

There is a growing recognition in many provinces that some clergy and lay church workers have used their power to abuse and then to silence their victims, who are mainly women and children. This abuse has taken a variety of forms such as sexual, physical, emotional and / or spiritual. Sometimes abuse occurs though social media. The resulting harm done to these victims and others such as family and church members, is often far reaching, impacting on an individual’s view of themselves, their relationships and their faith.

Established in May last year, the Commission has 14 members from different parts of the Anglican Communion. Its principal function is to develop guidelines to enhance the safety of all persons especially children, young people and vulnerable adults, within the provinces of the Anglican Communion for consideration by the Anglican Consultative Council at its ACC-17 meeting next year in Honk Kong.

Underlying the work of the Commission is the witness of Scripture to God’s love for all members of the human family and the priority given in Jesus’ ministry to children and the vulnerable of society. The Commission has been giving consideration to a theology of “safe church” or “safeguarding” as a foundation for its work.

The main focus of this meeting of the Commission was the consideration of draft guidelines which seek to give practical expression to the five commitments of the Charter for the Safety of People within the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Charter, which was adopted at ACC-15 and reaffirmed at ACC-16, commits to pastoral support where there is abuse; effective responses to abuse; safe practice of pastoral ministry; assessment of suitability for ministry; and a culture of safety. The Commission has heard from survivors of their experience of abuse and the response of the church, so that its work reflects contact with actual human suffering within our Anglican communities.

Following this meeting the Commission will be consulting with different parts of the Communion before its third face to face meeting at which its report for ACC-17 will be finalised.